Over 2000 Corruption Watch complaints in 2023…

Over 2000 complaints of corruption were received by Corruption Watch last year (2023). In this interview with BizNews, Executive Director Karam Singh speaks about the large number of complaints received in the policing- and the private sectors, as well as basic education, and state-owned enterprises. He warns that “it’s not clear that if a new state capture project were to emerge, that we have sufficiently learned and put safeguards into the system to protect us going forward”. He stresses the need to establish “a dedicated, fully capacitated, fully funded, independent anti-corruption agency to help drive governments’ initiatives and to ensure that we have the best approach, particularly from a law enforcement standpoint, similar to what we had previously with the Scorpions when it comes to the fight against corruption going forward”. Corruption Watch released its annual report today.Chris Steyn

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Summary of the interview

In an interview with Corruption Watch’s executive director Karam Singh, key points emerged regarding their annual report and the state of corruption in South Africa. The report, titled “Changing the Landscape,” focuses on the nexus between corruption and human rights realization, with a particular emphasis on land corruption in Africa. Singh highlighted challenges such as the chilling effect on whistleblowers, citing threats and violence against them. He emphasized the need for a transparent procurement system to curb fraud and advocated for a dedicated anti-corruption agency. The interview underscored concerns about ongoing corruption, despite previous anti-corruption efforts, and urged informed voting in the upcoming election based on parties’ anti-corruption stances. Singh’s insights shed light on the complex and pervasive nature of corruption in various sectors, demanding robust measures for accountability and transparency.

Corruption Watch PDFs

Read the full transcript of the interview below ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Chris Steyn (00:03.205)

Corruption Watch releases its annual report today. We speak to Executive Director Karam Singh. Welcome Mr Singh.

Karam Singh (00:04.006)

Thank you so much for having me.

Chris Steyn (00:17.317)

And what is the theme for this year’s report?

Karam Singh (00:21.094)

We entitled this year’s report, Changing the Landscape, noting that we are in an election year. We’ve also, one of the areas that we’ve been focusing on in this past period has been looking at issues about the relationship between corruption and the realisation of human rights. And in particular, we’ve had a particular project looking at the issue of land corruption in Africa. So that was also informed the theme for this year.

Chris Steyn (00:58.821)

What were the most commonly reported types of corruption last year?

Karam Singh (01:03.91)

We received well over 2000 complaints of corruption. They range in a variety of sectors. The largest number of complaints were received in the policing sector, followed by private sector issues, basic education, and state-owned enterprises. In terms of types of corruption, the types of allegations related to issues around fraud, employment irregularities, bribery and extortion and procurement irregularities.

Chris Steyn (01:36.933)

Can you give us an example of the worst case of corruption reported to Corruption Watch?

Karam Singh (01:42.758)

It’s very difficult to say. It’s very subjective. And I wouldn’t be able to give you a particular case. But we’ve seen in the public domain over this period significant corruption scandals. We’ve saw a series of scandals related to the Tembisa Hospital relating to issues of the provision of health care services in Gauteng. We know increasingly now that we have a challenge around the issue of organised crime and syndicated criminal activity, which basically characterises the type of corruption that takes place today. So it’s difficult to rank them in many ways. All of the allegations that we receive relate to insidious criminal activities, many of which implicate public servants.

Chris Steyn (03:25.477)

And how does that compare with the private sector, because you mentioned the private sector second.

Karam Singh (03:30.854)

Yes, private sector, you know, it becomes quite, quite disparate the type of complaints that one receives. You know, some of the complaints are in relationship to issues around employment irregularities, abuse of power, not necessarily the kind of intricate type of schemes that we’ve seen in the case of Steinhoff and Markus Jooste, which obviously has dominated the headlines in this in this most recent period.

Chris Steyn (04:02.437)

Now, with the lack of protection for whistleblowers, are less people coming forward or are people coming forward regardless of the horrors that may await them?

Karam Singh (04:11.334)

That’s a very good question. And I think in some cases, our numbers have been down from the highest point of complaints that we’ve received. And that could be for a variety of reasons. And one of the reasons could very well be what you flag, that there is a chilling environment for whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are disincentivised from coming forward. They often are victimised. They’re often subjected to threats in their families. And we know that in extreme cases, we’ve seen, you know, assassinations and murders of whistleblowers. So that’s a real challenge. And it, you know, becomes one of the real points of contention for us going forward in terms of the types of requests that we’re making from government to improve the environment, to ensure that we’re in a better footing when it comes to the fight against corruption. And critical to that will be an enhanced, a more robust system for the protection of whistleblowers.

Chris Steyn (05:16.005)

What were the main focus areas for the work of Corruption Watch last year?

Karam Singh (05:21.382)

There are a variety of focus areas. As I mentioned, we had a project in the area of land and corruption. We had a big focus in the period on issues of procurement and procurement reform. We’ve developed a digital tool called Procurement Watch, which analyses some of the data which is being released from the National Treasury with regard to procurement deviations and expansions.

And we know from the Zondo Commission and anybody who’s worked in projects that oftentimes this is where we see a significant corruption with projects that are budgeted for a specific amount, say a 10 million, and then there’s an overrun and they end up going into the hundreds of millions. Some cases the services don’t even get delivered. So we know that procurement fraud is a big issue.

There’s been a bill that’s been snaking its way through the parliamentary process, which is almost at its final hurdle. We still feel that the bill is insufficient in terms of providing the type of protections and robustness to the system to protect it from the kind of corruption vulnerabilities. And primarily what we’re advocating for there is a system that’s much more transparent, where common people in communities, let alone the regulators and the auditor general and others can follow the paper trail when it comes to big procurement and identify early on if there’s irregularities in the process before the money gets looted and stolen and then laundered. And then it becomes very difficult to recover money after the fact.

Chris Steyn (07:10.309)

What is the message from Corruption Watch as the country heads to the election next month?

Karam Singh (07:17.126)

I think the critical message is for the electorate to be well informed going to the polls in terms of understanding what the different political parties are saying, what their track record has been, and what we could expect from different parties in terms of their posture against corruption. I think going into the new administration, we have a national anti-corruption strategy, which has a lot of good points to it. We have a series of findings and recommendations from the Zondo Commission, many of which if they were implemented would put us in a better trajectory. We also have the findings and recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force that were responsible for gray listing South Africa. So there’s, you know, there’s lots of blueprints available to us in terms of implementing new approaches to the fight against corruption, which can put us in a much better place going forward.

I think we had high expectations from the outgoing administration because they kind of came in on a bit of an anti-corruption ticket. They said we would turn the corner against state capture. We would ensure that state capture could never happen again. And if you just heard some of the sobering remarks from the chief justice, the former chair of the commission, it’s not clear that if a new state capture project were to emerge, that we have sufficiently learned and put safeguards into the system to protect us going forward. So I think that’s really a big concern. And that also leads to one of the main points around the need to establish a dedicated, fully capacitated, fully funded, independent anti-corruption agency to help drive governments’ initiatives and to ensure that we have the best approach, particularly from a law enforcement standpoint, similar to what we had previously with the scorpions when it comes to the fight against corruption going forward.

Chris Steyn (09:20.101)

Thank you. That was Mr. Karam Singh, the executive director of Corruption Watch, speaking to BizNews on the day of the release of its annual report. Thank you, Mr. Singh.

Karam Singh (09:30.79)

Thank you, Chris.

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